What it’s like to lose your sex drive

I’m a 38-year-old menopausal woman. Two years ago, I had a complete hysterectomy during surgery for an ovarian cyst. I went from being a young-ish, healthy, energetic woman with predictable cycles and a decent sex drive and no shortage of natural lubrication to…

Well, something entirely different.

Since my menopause was medically induced, I didn’t have the months (or years) of perimenopause that many women experience. I remember my mom having hot flashes and mood swings for what seemed like 20 years.

My experience was different. Other than looking pregnant because of a large ovarian cyst, everything in my body was working as usual… And then, nothing was normal at all.

I was having hot flashes, my hormones were all over the place, and my emotions… Whoa, Betty.

Not good.

I’ve always been a calm, controlled person.

Emotions? Yeah, I have them.

But I spend most of my time in my head: thinking, analyzing, being logical. I’m not saying that’s the way to be; it’s just the way I was. Then—all of a sudden—emotions like monsters were raging. They were roaring. They were ripping me apart.

And all that carefully cultivated control, my sense of calmness, my logic, my ability to distance, to think it through: all that seemed to disappear.

Along with my sex drive.

Goodbye, sex drive

My sex drive didn’t decrease. It didn’t slow down. It didn’t hit a downward spiral.

It disappeared.

Honestly, okay: my sex drive hasn’t been a dynamo, rip-roaring, unstoppable one. Uhhh, no. I would probably say that I function, historically, at about 40% of the desire level that my husband has. He would probably say it’s more like 25%.

My sex drive has had plenty of ups and downs. I’ve had lag time. I’ve had periods when I was just not interested. There have been times when our marriage wasn’t doing so great, and sex didn’t seem so great either. I’ve also had four babies—and breastfed four babies—and that will do a number on your hormones, which will subsequently do a number on your sex drive.

But I’ve never been completely bereft of sexual desire.

And let me tell you, it is weird, not fun, and kind of terrifying.

I remember laying in bed, a few months in, feeling guilty about not wanting sex, and thinking, I want to want to have sex. I want to want to have sex.

It’s weird and difficult to explain what it feels like to have no sexual desire.

It’s also weird and difficult to live through it. I hated it. Sex is an important part of my relationship with my partner. It’s a way to connect. Also, um, it feels good and it’s really fun.

Imagine that you lose your appetite. Imagine that food—a nourishing, sustaining, necessary, enjoyable part of life—no longer looks or sounds or smells appealing. Your body is wasting away, you’re losing energy, and you feel awful, because you’re not getting the nutrients you need. But when you think about eating, you just… don’t want to. You can’t work up an appetite. You can’t make yourself want food. And you feel miserable because a) you’re not eating enough and b) you don’t want to eat and c) you want to want food again, and enjoy it, but you don’t know how.

Compounding the experience of having no sex drive are all the emotional repercussions that go with it, such as guilt, frustration, anxiety, shame, and hopelessness.

If, up to a certain point, you’ve had an active and good sex life with your partner, and then—suddenly—you don’t want sex (but your partner still does), you might feel guilty. Really guilty. I sure did.

Yes, I know: I shouldn’t have felt guilty. My body was in the midst of big changes. It wasn’t under my control. Etc. And my partner, by the way, was wonderful through it all. Patient and kind. But I felt awful, I felt guilty, and I felt bad about feeling guilty, and I missed how I used to feel. I missed how I used to want sex.

And that’s where the frustration, anxiety, shame, and hopelessness come in:

  • Frustration: This situation sucks and I don’t know what to do about it and I feel stuck and there’s no way to resolve it and it’s affecting my life in a negative way and it seems to be getting worse, not better.
  • Anxiety: What if nothing ever changes? What if this ruins my relationship? What if… What if this is it for me now? What if my sex drive never recovers? Oh my god what if my sex drive never recovers.
  • Shame: I’m not doing something right. There’s probably some way to deal with this, to cope, to find a solution. To fix it. But I don’t know how, because everything’s wrong and I’m wrong and this is wrong and it’s all my fault somehow.
  • Hopelessness: I’ve tried all the things and nothing’s working. My sex drive will never be back. That was it, my whole sexual existence, it’s over and all I have now is this wanting to want which is the absolute worst because I remember what desire feels like and I remember how electrifying it is and I don’t want sex to be a chore, I want it to come from desire, and this sucks and I hate it and now I’m stuck here, forever.

It’s a lot to handle. And you know how sex can be a really good way to get space from a problem, relieve stress, get out of your head, quit overthinking, calm down, and feel good?

Yeah?

Well: when a disappearing sex drive is the problem, having sex is a much more difficult solution.

It’s not, of course, that I wasn’t able to have sex without a sex drive. I could—and we did—but it’s not the same. At least, it wasn’t for me. It’s like eating food when you have no taste buds. You can still eat and receive nourishment, but the experience isn’t nearly as enjoyable.

It was a full year after my hysterectomy before I began to feel the inklings of desire. It was maybe the longest year of my life.

But my sex drive didn’t disappear forever. It was on vacation, I guess? And it came back. In fact, it came back better than ever. Maybe that rest was good for it.

In the meantime, while waiting on my absent sex drive to show itself, I started learning how to talk about sex. I mean, really talk about sex. And I mean started. Talking about sex is tough. It’s not something I grew up doing, or was taught how to do, or have ever known how to do in a healthy way. Obviously I’m much more comfortable with it now, as I’m writing about my sex drive on a public platform. But, weirdly, confessional writing to an unseen audience–even on a very personal topic—can be much easier than a one-on-one conversation with your partner. The computer screen doesn’t ask me difficult questions, and I can easily ignore comments left by unknown Internet readers. I can’t ignore my partner’s pain or longing or frustration when he’s looking me in the face, and I can’t ignore my own anger, sadness, confusion or vulnerability when I’m speaking it aloud.

I also learned something important about my partner and our relationship: I learned that, as important as sex is, it’s not what makes a relationship intimate. You build intimacy in a lot of ways: sex can be an expression of that closeness, but if you’re not truly intimate with someone, sex won’t create that kind of connection for you.

And I learned that my partner, the father of my children, my husband of 15 years, is much more patient and kind and understanding than I knew. This turned out to be a really good lesson, because a short year later—right after my sex drive returned, and things were looking pretty good—we walked straight into the most difficult season our marriage has ever known.

But that’s another overly personal story for another day.

Photo by pawel szvmanski on Unsplash